In Case You Thought Homeland Security Knows What it is Doing

I am on my way to a few days of skiing in Utah, but I thought I would leave you with this travel story.  A few weeks ago I was traveling and was at the airport really early.  I had forgotten to remove the toothpaste from my stuff, and I was flagged for extra screening because they saw it on X-ray (I remember the good old days when they were X-raying for guns and stuff rather than toothpaste, but I digress). 

The screener pulled it out and said - sorry, this is more than three ounces.  So, as an engineer with no sense of self-preservation, I asked, "Weight or volume?"  The screener asked what I meant.  I said that an "ounce" is a unit of both weight and volume, which did he mean?  (The TSA site is no help, it just says ounces).  He said "volume."  Still being stupid, I said "but the 3.5oz on that toothpaste is weight -- you can tell by the 'net Wt.' in front of it and the number in grams behind it.  He looked at it for a minute, and then gives me an answer right out of Spinal Tap:  "But its over 3 ounces"  [but this one goes to 11].  Anyway, I gave up and surrendered my Crest to government authorities, and the world was that much safer.

I am told by an airline exec that the policy was originally volume, but after many complaints, the government realized that an ounce was also a unit of weight and they have informally changed the policy to "3 ounces weight or volume" but they never really communicated this change fully because it's too, you know, embarrassing that they operated so long not knowing the difference.

Have a good week -- I will probably post a bit but it will be light.


  1. Brandybuck:

    The more I go through airports, the more I realize that the TSA is nothing more than a government jobs program for stupid and obnoxious people

  2. CRC:

    "The more I go through airports, the more I realize that the TSA is nothing more than a government jobs program for stupid and obnoxious people"

    Well, duh! There are only a few hundred seats in Congress.

  3. eric:

    Which raises the question, if they search you, why can't you just surrender everything over 3 oz. by weight or volume into, say, the toothpaste bucket or the mouthwash bucket. I'd settle for hanging on to 2 oz., and no grinning triumph from my TSA auditor.

  4. Highway:

    eric, some part of me thinks it'd be worth bringing a giant tube of toothpaste or shampoo, just so they could stop you, and then you squirt or pour all the excess onto the TSA employee, then say "Well, it's less than 3 oz now." Unfortunately, the power to harass only goes one way in those interactions.

  5. William Cormier:

    Earlier this month, I picked-up my 12 year old niece at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport from a flight that originated in SLC, Utah. When she arrived home, I noticed a small plastic box-cutter she was carrying, the type I imagine was used in the 911 attacks. I asked her about it, and why she was carrying it. She stated she had found it and thought it was "cool" even though the blade had been partially broken off, but it still functioned. I just shook my head as I understood that we are paying out of the nose for security that's only as secure as those who are monitoring the X-Rays and other detection devices - and from what I witnessed, we aren't much more secure now than we were seven years ago.

    William Cormier

  6. Jason:

    I think you folks should lighten up on the TSA. While it does appear to have been a post 9-11 jobs project (Bush wanted to keep security private) they still have the same challenge any military or police force faces: create unambiguous policies that can be followed by entry level workers and applied without risk of bias across a broad range of situations.

  7. tribal elder:

    On TSA-

    Does any of this inconvenience and intrusion accomplish anything but the illusion of safety ?

    A traffic jam at a security checkpoint just creates a new target on the ground. Unlike a missing airplane, security cameras would even have nice video of it for the news !

    On a positive note, the morgue workers wouldn't have to take the victims' shoes off.